This post has lived in me for a while. I kept it in the back of my mind, beneath a bunch of other things that didn’t need to be said. Or so I thought. Now I know better. Everything of value needs to be said.
Sometimes, you can’t contain it. Sometimes, the problem seems so big and the emotional response is so great that you just have to call a friend and let them know about the grand showdown that just occurred between you and your husband.
They don’t always help, these conversations, but we have them because they make us feel good. We like the release we experience when recounting the story, being sure to highlight all our good points and all his bad ones. We like the comfort we get from our friends who reassure us that he is the one with the problem (not us).
We don’t always like, however, the repercussions of these conversations, which have a way of increasing the divide between already-feuding couples. For that reason, we must be cautious.
There is nothing wrong with seeking marital advice or getting another perspective on an issue, but we must never forget our duties to our spouses. Husbands and wives should be garments for each other. We must guard each other’s feelings and reputations in the same way we’d guard our own. That doesn’t change just because we’re upset. Consider the following when discussing your relationship with others.
DO calm down first
If you’re still at a 10, it’s better to wait until you’ve calmed down to approach another person about your problems. When you’re very upset, your filters can be faulty and you may say something you either didn’t mean or didn’t mean to share.
DO have an agenda
The point of the conversation should not be to merely vent, but to gain some insight into a particular area your having trouble with. Perhaps ask how they communicate with a person who shuts down when upset or ask if they have any tips on keeping your cool in a highly emotional argument. Whatever you ask or say, it should be specific and well thought out. Otherwise, you may end up spending an hour or so merely entertaining someone else with the intimate details of marriage.
DO choose wisely: You shouldn’t talk to everyone about your problems. In fact, you shouldn’t talk to most people about them, friend or not. You have to choose someone who will be an advocate for your marriage, meaning they will be slow to encourage divorce and quick to point out your spouse’s positive qualities. This person should also be levelheaded and married, preferably.
DON’T talk to someone who will spread your business
Some people just can’t keep their mouth shut. Those are the types of people you shouldn’t talk to about your marriage. Remember, if they will tell you someone else’s business, they will certainly tell your business to someone else (and they probably won’t even tell it correctly).
DON’T say anything that would hurt or embarrass your spouse
This one can be tricky because sometimes the things you really need to discuss can be the ones your spouse would never approve of you sharing. You’ll have to use your own discretion. The main thing to remember is that you are to guard his reputation. Certain issues, like physical or drug abuse, should be shared with someone trustworthy, regardless of if it will be upsetting or not. (Note: In the case of any type of abuse, especially physical, your safety will always have to be taken into account, so you may need to strategize before you tell someone.) Other issues, like sexual ones or anything else of very private nature, can be addressed by reading books and utilizing anonymous online forums. People are often surprised to find there are tons of helpful people online who are experiencing similar circumstances.
DON’T make it a habit of only discussing your spouse’s shortcomings
If the only time you discuss your husband is when he is driving you insane, even the most nonjudgmental person may begin to see him in a tainted light. They may find themselves thinking, “Wow, sounds like she married a real jerk,” when the truth is that he only seems that way because of the image you created. Even though you’re upset in the moment, you know he is a wonderful man, but the person you’re confiding in may not.
Even when we don’t feel like it, we must cherish our marriages and our spouses by protecting them from the curious ears of those whose words have no value.
There’s a scene in the 90’s film My Girl where Vada, the 11-year-old main character, thinks she’s dying. “I’m hemorrhaging!” she yells, frantically looking for her father. As it turns out, she’s not hemorrhaging at all– it’s just her period–but the discovery of something like that can understandably frightening to a girl who isn’t prepared for it. Marriage is the same way. Many of us expect it to be great (and it is) but we don’t expect the not-so-great parts. So, when they show up, we act just like little Vada, running around in a panic, thinking something horrible has happened.
That’s why it’s so important for young couples to be fully informed of what they’re signing up for. This ain’t no game. It’s real, son! The more realistic your expectations, the happier you’ll be.
1. Feeling bored
After the honeymoon ends and the two of you settle into a routine, you might find yourself feeling bored at times. This is especially true for people with children and/or demanding jobs. This isn’t necessarily a sign that you two aren’t compatible or that the chemistry is gone. More than likely, it’s a sign that you two need to reconnect, re-prioritize. Feelings of boredom can actually be a good thing because they can be the impetus needed to take your marriage off the back burner.
Dating can feel like a constant adventure, but marriage is comfortable–sometimes too comfortable. It’s easy to just settle in and go with the flow, but that’s what you have to fight against. If you really want your marriage to be fulfilling, you have to put into it what you expect to get out. Don’t bother trying to “find” time to spend together. Make time. It’s just as important as that meeting, that appointment, that homework. Who wants to aimlessly drift through a marriage when you can actively carve out a satisfying path? As my mother used to tell me every time I complained of being bored: “Boring people get bored.” So if you’re looking for some action, create it!
2. Disagreeing on things you thought you agreed on
If you’re smart, you probably discussed a bunch of relevant issues before marriage. If you’re human, you probably discovered that everything didn’t pan out as smoothly as you thought it would. For example, maybe its money that’s causing some friction. You discussed it beforehand and you both classified yourselves as savers who are focused on building a nest egg. However, once married, you discovered that your definitions of saving aren’t quite aligned. And now you’re fighting over something that seemed like a no-brainer. What happened?
Girl, life happened. That’s all. No biggie. It just means you two need to adjust your game plan. The original plan was based on speculation, how you thought things would go, but now you’ve got some hands-on experience. Use that to your advantage. You’ve both had some time to see the other in action, so keep those things in mind as you (lovingly) discuss the changes you need to make so the two of you can be on one accord.
3. Finding out you don’t know the person as well as you thought
No matter how long you’ve known a person, there are certain things you won’t know until after marriage. We’re not talking major, life-altering discoveries here. Just things you didn’t know. A lot of times, we discover early in marriage that the latent assumptions we held (and, therefore, didn’t think to bring up) are not universal. So, some of the things you thought would happen naturally aren’t happening and you’re left wondering, “Who is this and what has he done with my man?” Don’t stress. He’s still you’re man. You’re just seeing him in his entirety. You’ve being introduced to sides of him that perhaps weren’t relevant before marriage. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. Instead, think of it as a necessary step, the part of your relationship where you get to know each other on a new and deeper level. It’s like homework for lovers. Cool.
4. Discovering that your spouse has more negative traits than you originally noticed
Now that the rose-colored glasses are gone, you’re noticing all kinds of things that, seemingly, just popped up out of the blue. “When did he develop OCD?” “When did he become so moody?” “Has he always been this cheap?” Though these traits seem new, they’re nothing of the sort. They were there all along, but your love-struck behind didn’t see it! The same goes for him. He’s probably looking at you like, “I don’t like that… or that… or that… and definitely not that.”
Depressing, huh. Not really. You don’t have to like every single thing about your husband to be happily married. You just have to like him more than you dislike him. You just have to choose to love him despite the spots and blemishes. Think of the other people you love (your parents, siblings, friends). Do you love every single thing about them? Probably not, but you’d never let that get in the way of your relationship. Why? Because the good outweighs the bad, because they make you happy more than they do sad, because they make you laugh more than they do cry. In short, there is a reliable benefit in the relationship. Marriage is no different.
5. Second-guessing your decision to get married
In the words of Chris Rock, “If you haven’t contemplated murder, you ain’t been in love.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I get where he’s coming from. His point? Intimate relationships are hard, so hard that you’d rather not deal with it at times. That doesn’t mean you should divorce. It means you have to know that this, too, shall pass.
No she didn’t hit me with that trite a_ _ cliche, you say to yourself. Oh, yes, I did. So, what, you wanna fight? No, seriously, it really will pass, especially if you know how to handle conflict, especially if you remember that your spouse always deserves respect, especially if you know that the ego must die. The next time you find yourself wondering if you’ve made the right choice, imagine how it would be without your spouse. Think of what it would be like to be alone, without his love, without his touch. If that’s not what you want, there’s your answer.
If my memory serves me correctly, the popular childhood refrain explains it all: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. That’s how it works, right? (Well, minus that baby carriage part. These days, babies show up wheneva, but that’s another topic.) It seems most people would agree that love is a prerequisite for marriage, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Historically, love was not that big of a deal. Often times it grew out of marriage, but wasn’t necessarily there before. Why is that? It’s simple, really. Marriage wasn’t about being with the one you love. It was about creating stable families and communities. Marriage was about protecting the collective, safeguarding the whole. They wanted to make sure the two would produce children and raise them to be productive citizens, thereby ensuring the future of society. Was it romantic? Not really. But did it work? Yep.
These days, things work pretty differently. The old, business-like model has given way to a heart-ruled approach that gives love and emotional connection top billing. Suddenly, marriage was exciting. It was more than just a fact of life. It was something we looked forward to, yearned for. The heart was running the show, and along with that came the poorly thought out decisions our hearts sometimes coax us into making.
Does that mean marrying for love is a bad idea? Of course not. I was thoroughly in love with my husband when we married, so I’d be a hypocrite if I said otherwise, but I also knew that love alone (as strong as it is) would not be enough to make our marriage successful. Love can make you better, but it can also make you foolish.
Love can make an honest and faithful person stay with a cheater. Love can make a kind-hearted man stay with a woman who is emotionally unstable. Love can make a woman repeatedly get pregnant by a lazy, jobless man. Love is just love. Like an immature child, it’s self centered and only considers itself. That’s why it feels so good, and that’s also why it can be so unstable.
There has to be something more. Couples have to know that even when they’re trapped in discontent, cut off from the peace and solace love usually provides, the marriage can still survive. There should be a deeper commitment, a bridge that carries you back to ease. Is a healthy bank statement enough to be that bridge? Probably not (rich people break up every day), but it is a huge help to at least know that the bills are paid and your belly is full, especially when you have children.
In regards to the question, “Which is more important?” I can’t give a straight forward answer. You could marry a wealthy jerk and end up divorced just as quickly as anyone else, but I will suggest that women in particular need to pay more attention to finances and not feel guilty because of it. No woman wants to be perceives as a gold digger, but often times this fear prevents us from asking the important questions that need to be addressed. In the same way that our debt and financial history is relevant, so is his. Does he have a savings account? Is there anything in it? Does he have any debt? If so, what kind? Does he have a 5-year financial plan? These are the types of questions a woman should be comfortable asking a man before marriage.
It’s not about finding the richest guy possible. It’s about making a thorough assessment of compatibility, one that does more than simply consider how in love you may be with a person. As women, we must constantly be aware of our wombs – that empty, life-giving space that we could soon find occupied, thanks to the men we let into our lives. And that occupant (God willing) will grow into a small person who will require lots of attention and resources. That’s money. That’s time. That’s attention, energy and love. We owe it to ourselves and our little future occupants to know there’s more to marriage than just love.
It’s hard work being a parent—even with a supportive co-parent. And without one, it kind of feels like Mission Impossible, except it’s not impossible. All over the country, millions of parents are doing their best to fill two pairs of shoes and to field the questions of inquisitive children who want to know where their other parent is.
Sometimes, parents die. That’s a special situation, but other times they simply choose not to be active in their children’s lives. Out of immaturity, irresponsibility, emotional hang-ups, addictive lifestyles, or plain old spite for you, some parents just don’t do their jobs, and it’s infuriating. Enough to make you want to cry. Enough to induce one of those old school temper tantrums, like falling-on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming-until-a-big-snot-bubble-forms-on-your-nose kind of temper tantrum. But I don’t even have to tell you. You already know the feeling.
And to make things worse, here comes your beautiful, innocent little child, looking for answers. He wants to know why other kids have two parents while he only has one. He wants to know where his father is and why he isn’t around. These questions cut like a dagger to the heart, and if not handled correctly, they can cause a lot more emotional strife—for you and your child. But fear not. Follow these guidelines to make the best out of such a difficult situation.
DO NOT speak poorly of the parent in front of the child
Chances are, you child knows nothing about DNA, chromosomes and fertilized eggs. She doesn’t know the technical explanation of how she came to be, but she does know she’s half you and half him. That’s just something they can feel, and so regardless of if children actually know their other parent, they still identify with them. For that reason, you have to bite your tongue. If she hears you talk about how worthless her father is, she can’t help but to conclude that part of her is worthless too.
DO be as honest as is appropriate for your child’s age
There’s no need to create fairy tale stories that cast the parent in a positive but completely unrealistic light (i.e. “Your father is a superhero who saves people all across the world”). You can be honest without going into unnecessary detail. If your child asks where the parent is, it’s ok to tell them you don’t know or to tell them where the parent is. Just reinforce that the parent does love them. Try to be as upbeat and matter-of-fact as possible. If your child sees that you get upset every time they broach the subject, they won’t do it anymore. Then they’ll be left to draw their own conclusions about why the parent left. More often than not, they will conclude that it is their own fault. Don’t know what to say? Try something like, “I’m not sure where he is, but I know he loves you a lot. Hopefully he’ll be able to tell you that in person one day.”
DO NOT hold your child emotionally hostage
We’re meant to connect. We’re hardwired that way, and if we don’t have the proper people around to make those connections with, it is easy to make improper ones with our children, particularly our opposite-sex children. I get concerned when I hear mothers jokingly saying things like, “I don’t need a man. I’ve already got my little man right here.” Your child is not a surrogate partner. He isn’t there to “fill you up” or make you happy (though children do make us parents quite happy). That’s a lot on a little guy to be emotionally responsible for his parent, to feel like he has to make her happy because no one else is there to do it. You are the adult, the responsible party, not him. Genuine happiness comes from within. You need to be able to create and maintain your own happiness so your child is free to do the same.
If you’re having a particularly hard day, don’t make your child feel guilty by saying things like, “It’s just you and me. You’re all mama has.” That puts the weight of the world on their little shoulders. If they notice you are sad and ask why, give an answer that allows them to stay in a child’s role. Say something like, “I’m just having a frustrating day. That happens sometimes, but it’s okay. I just need to relax a little and I’ll be good as new!” Even if that’s not 100% true, you should still get the message across that “mommy is going to be okay and this isn’t your problem to fix.” One day in the distant future, your child will need to detach and form his own family. Children who have been held emotionally hostage have a challenging time doing that.
DO give your child the space to express his feelings, good or bad
If children (and people in general) aren’t able to express themselves constructively, they most certainly will do it destructively. Of course you want the former. In an attempt to protect our children from sadness, anger and disappointment, we sometimes find it easier and less awkward to avoid the topic all together. That only makes it easier for you, not the child. Take advantage of natural opportunities to talk to your child about how they feel about the missing parent. If he says something like, “Jimmy’s dad came to school today and talked to the class. It was cool,” use that as a way in. Say something like, “Oh, really? That is cool. Does it bother you that your dad isn’t here to do things like that?” When your child sees that you’re comfortable talking about it, they will be more likely to bring it up on their own whenever they feel the need.
DO NOT discourage or be offended by your child’s loyalty to the other parent
You changed all the diapers. You buy all the food. You wipe all the tears. Yet and still, she loves HIM. What’s up with that? Human nature is what’s up with that. The bond between parent and child is amazingly strong and can’t be quantified or even fully explained, so the lack of physical presence doesn’t erase the connection.
Don’t take it personally if your upset child says something like, “I don’t love you! I love daddy!” They don’t mean it. That’s just their way of protecting that connection. Don’t get baited into an emotionally charged, “Well, your ignorant daddy is nowhere to be found,” kind of response. Stay calm and say, “Well, I still love you, and I’m glad you love your daddy.” Then go in your room and have a good cry if need be.
You also shouldn’t be offended if your child tells their friends that the new shoes you worked overtime to pay for are a gift from the other parent. Again, that’s their way of holding tight to that connection. Just let them know it isn’t good to lie, and don’t waste your time worrying about where Billy from across the street thinks your child’s shoes came from.
DO use family and friends as a support system
The other parent may be absent, but good friends and family are always willing to be there for you. They love you, so they will be willing to help out in any way they can. No one wants to feel like a charity case, but don’t turn down the help of those who offer with a sincere heart. (Note: Do beware of people who have ulterior motives and only offer help as an excuse to get in your business.)
Happy children have happy parents, and happy parents use all the resources at their disposal. Upset because your child’s father said he’d do something and didn’t come through—again? Don’t tell your child how mad you are. Tell your family or friends. Vent to them all you want, knowing that the things you say won’t be hurting your child’s sense of self.
DO NOT try to overcompensate for the absent parent
It hurts us to see our children sad. We want their childhoods to be full of laughter and smiles, not tears and disappointment. The undeniable truth, though, is that tears and disappointment are a part of life. They make us stronger, teach us life lessons, and add to our wisdom, so don’t allow yourself to become the super lax parent who only wants to be a friend. Rules and consequences are an integral part of raising well-adjusted, responsible children. No one wants to end up with a brat who cannot handle disappointment and thinks the world revolves around him. That’s not even cute at 5, and it sure ain’t cute at 18! Be stern with your children. They will thank you later.
DO examine your relationship history
This doesn’t relate directly to your children, but it will affect your ability to pick a good mate in the future. They say hindsight is 20/20, so things probably look so much clearer now than they did when you were in the relationship. Did you take the time to get to know the person well enough before you had a child with them? Did you ignore signs that suggested this wasn’t a good person to have a baby with? Do you have a pattern of getting into relationships with the same type of people? Answering these questions can help prevent you from repeating history in your next relationship.
Back in the day, men had to ask a woman’s father for her hand in marriage, but now that’s considered old fashioned and unnecessary. These days, some men aren’t even meeting the fathers until the wedding rehearsal. “Ask for my hand? For what? What am I, a piece a property? So I’m not capable of giving my own hand?” This is the response many men would be hit with if they even suggested talking to a woman’s father first. And that’s part of why things have gotten so bad.
I was completely capable of “giving my own hand” if I chose, but still my father had a talk with my husband before we married. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Listen here, boy. F_ _ _ up and see what happens. I’m from the streets, son. Jersey all day!” Ok, so that was a bit of a stretch. I’m sure my father said nothing like that, but he did make it clear that there were certain standards he’d have to live up to if he wanted to marry his daughter.
It wasn’t about passing ownership from one pair of male hands to the next. It was about a man being held accountable by another man. In the same way that women find it easier and best to talk to other women about issues of femininity, men should approach other men on issues of masculinity and manhood. Women shouldn’t have to yell, “Treat us better!” “Stop beating us!” Stop abandoning us with your children!” Those messages should come from other men– fathers, uncles, brothers, sons and friends (or even a random man on the street who witnessed some foolishness and couldn’t help but to get involved).
A woman knows if another woman is up to no good, and so does a man. That’s why fathers need to be the intercessors. You might be fooled by a nice smile and a smooth baritone voice (and so might your mother), but your father won’t. You might be captivated by his cologne and conversation, but your father is immune. He has been taking care of you his entire life, doing everything he can to make sure you are safe and happy, so he’ll be damned if he’s going to let another man come into your life and ruin all the work he’s done. No sir. Not today. Not on his watch.
That is what fathers are for.
Let’s be clear. This is not to discount the work or importance of mothers. Mother’s are absolutely essential, but this is an area where a father (not necessarily biological) needs to be present. When a woman gets in a serious relationship with a man, she’s not just agreeing to be his companion, she is agreeing to let him be the father of any children they may have. She is agreeing to allow him to be the leader of whatever family they may create. She is agreeing to be the mother of any offspring he may produce. That’s a big deal, a super big deal, one you shouldn’t be making by yourself.
Love is great, but it isn’t always logical. In fact, it can be downright crazy. Think of all the people that stay in bad relationships because they can’t bring themselves to leave. (Perhaps you’re thinking of yourself right now.) Think of all the people that are so attached to the “loves of their lives” that they put up with horrible treatment. Love actually makes it harder to judge a person’s worthiness. It fills the air with a sweet-smelling fog that makes it difficult to see what’s in front of you.
Ladies, we need to turn down the Destiny’s Child long enough to realize that we do not have to exist in this world completely by ourselves. We’ve been convinced that we have to have our own everything, even our own backs. Well, that just isn’t possible. If your back is going to be covered (and we can probably all agree that it should be), it has to be done by someone else. There is no way around that. And since you’re dealing with a man–something you are not–why not have the cover of someone who is? Makes sense, don’t it?